Five ways to make your next holiday more sustainable

18 July 2017

The idea of 'sustainable tourism' has been around for a while, but a lot of people still aren't exactly sure what the words mean. If you're among the confused, be assured: sustainable travel doesn't have to mean roughing it, and it doesn't only apply to trips to remote areas – even if you're only taking a city break, you can still go green. Here are five ways to be a more sustainable tourist.

Photo: Pixabay

Take the train in Europe

Going by rail instead of by plane or rental car is one of the easiest ways to make your travel more sustainable. The numbers are stark: by taking a high-speed electric train you are personally responsible for 29 times less carbon dioxide than you would be if you undertook the same journey by plane. Train travel is a particularly good choice in Europe, where the rail network is comfortable, comprehensive and fast. The swiftest of all is Italy's Trenitalia Frecciarossa, which can whisk passengers from Milan to Florence or Rome at a top speed of 354 kmh. The Frecciarossa is remarkable for its construction as much as for its speed: its components are almost 100 percent sustainable and renewable.

Photo: Pixabay

Choose green hotels

Think the only 'green' hotels are trendy boutique properties? Think again. These days many of the world's biggest hotel chains and resorts have green policies aimed at reducing their environmental impact. Initiatives might include using solar energy, providing energy efficient lighting, or recycling 'greywater' for garden and landscaping use. Even if the hotel you're staying at doesn't have an official green programme, there's plenty you can do to reduce your footprint: let the maid know you don't need new towels each day, use the recycling bins provided, and turn down the thermostat or turn off the air con while you're out.

Photo: Pixabay

Buy local

Making an effort to buy from local producers is one of the easiest ways to make your trip more sustainable. By seeking out independent, locally owned businesses, you're ensuring the money you spend stays in the community you're visiting, rather than being siphoned off by big international corporations. Shopping with a sustainable mindset means you have more opportunities to really engage with the locals – they might last only a few minutes, but these short interactions can often be among the most memorable moments of your trip. Not only that, you'll come away with higher quality, more authentic souvenirs, reflecting the traditional skills and values of the place you're staying in. So visit those craft fairs, buy your picnic supplies from the farmers market, and ask your hotel concierge for advice on where the locals shop. It's worth it.

Photo: Pixabay

Look into green cruises and tours

Cruises haven't historically been known for their environmental credentials, but that reputation is changing fast. Last year, as part of its Save the Waves initiative, the giant cruise company Royal Caribbean formed a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to support ocean conservation. Under the deal, 90% of the wild-caught seafood served in Royal Caribbean's restaurants will be certified sustainable by the end of 2020, and its 44-ship fleet will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 35%. Meanwhile, river cruise company Uniworld is offering passengers on their India's Golden Triangle and Sacred Ganges itinerary the chance to extend their journey with a five-day volunteer experience, helping with a sustainable development project alongside local families.

Then there are land-based tour companies like Intrepid Travel, which already offers more than 1,000 group tours that are carbon neutral, achieved by working with local suppliers and donating money to carbon offset programmes, with more on the way this year. 

Photo: Pixabay

Check out local bike and walking tours

Sustainable tourism isn't just about reducing your carbon footprint. It's also about building cultural connections: creating bridges between tourists and the local community. And there's few better ways to do that than on a walking tour, whether it's a morning spent eating street food in Hanoi or a week walking the historic Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail in Spain. More of a cyclist than a walker? Try a biking tour – you'll be able to cover relatively large distances while still engaging with local communities in a way you never could by car. And with the advent of rechargeable e-bikes, there's no need to worry about hills.

Catherine McGregor

Catherine McGregor is a New Zealand-born, New York-based writer and web editor. She is the former digital editor at Auckland's Metro, where she managed the magazine's online presence while writing about food, culture and travel. Her travel bucket list includes Petra, Jordan; Yosemite National Park, United States; and Kyoto, Japan.